Middle management and emotional health

A few weekends ago I had an event with my family – always a treasure trove of insight and growth.  Anxiety and stress, too.  Before the weekend I was trying to explain to my husband why I was filled with such anxiety about the whole thing.  I told him that I felt like I was trapped in a mine with my parents and sisters.  I was the only one with a headlamp on – the only one who could guide everyone out.  I was calling to my family, trying to explain how to get out, trying to direct them so that we could all be saved.  But they weren’t listening.  They were talking about other things, going in opposite directions, and completely disregarding what I was trying to do.  And I was getting more and more agitated and frantic.  I wasn’t going to be able to get them out!

That’s how I feel when I think about my family’s emotional health.  It’s not to say that I’ve figured it all out and am better than they are in any way.  But I have learned a lot about battling my depression, and I have spent several years in therapy, and I have made great strides in my own emotional health.  So when I’m around my family and I’m seeing all of these unhealthy dynamics, I want to help.  I want to explain to them how none of us have a real solid sense of self – that we’re all driven by what others think of us – but it doesn’t have to be that way.  And my older sister doesn’t have to hate my younger sister so much because it’s only dragging her down and making her miserable.  And my younger sister doesn’t have to put us down in order to compensate for her insecurity.  And my parents would have a better relationship with each of us if they could support us and love us for who we are, instead of judging and comparing.

I want to fix things.  I want to help.  I have some good ideas about how we can make things better, and I want to share those ideas.  I know that sounds obnoxious, like I’m superior somehow.  I really don’t mean it that way, but I do want to try to make our family dynamics healthier.  And that’s in large part because our unhealthy dynamics drag me down, and my family is a big source of my anxiety and fear of being judged.  In my mind, if I can help my family to be healthier, that will be a huge benefit to me as well.

But in the end I feel like I’m trying to manage everyone.  I don’t want my older sister to let her hatred spill out over the weekend, so that my parents sense it and get angry.  I need to manage her feelings to prevent that explosion.  And I need to manage my mom so that she doesn’t push any of the huge buttons that I know are issues for either of my sisters.  And my dad?  I need to manage him by showing him that I’m going out of my way to be helpful and friendly and behaving like he thinks a family should.

In the end all of this is exhausting and obviously there’s no time for thinking of my own needs – which are considerable when dealing with my family.  Not to mention that all of this managing of my family shortchanges my husband and kids from having a version of me that’s as healthy as I can muster.

I’ve never been in the corporate world but I imagine this is how it might feel to be part of middle management.  You can see the problems that need to be addressed, but you don’t have the authority or resources to address those problems.  And people may not be receptive to your ideas since they’re not coming from The Big Boss.  But in the case of my family, where there is no Big Boss, where does that leave us?

I guess it comes down to just worrying about me – which sounds terribly selfish, I know.  But I can only control how I react, and how I manage my relationships with each individual.  I can’t be trying to guide all of them out of the mine.  I can just be thankful that I have my own little headlamp.

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6 thoughts on “Middle management and emotional health

  1. I love how you see a family event as ‘a treasure trove of insight and growth’. lol.

    IMO, and I think you are hinting at this throughout, we can’t manage, fix or change our families. It is tempting though, with all the personal growth we’ve been doing, I can see that. But it’s co-dependent to try and fix them.

    Your last paragraph sounds the most healthy to me – we can really only manage ourselves and change our own responses. That may initiate some change in our families, or it may not.

    BTW this is an area where I have more theoretical knowledge than practical – my own family still has me stumped.

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    • I’m glad that you appreciate the humor in my perspective on family events. 🙂

      You state it well – that with the personal growth I’ve had, I want to share that and help my family to have personal growth, too. But that’s a non-starter because I can’t fix anything.

      I’m encouraged, at least a little, by the idea that my own change may trigger some changes in some members of my family. So I shouldn’t despair that my growth is for naught in the context of my family – it may have even tiny ripple effects for the better. Thanks for making that point.

      I understand about families leaving you stumped. I hope we can both start to get more understanding about them, even if it’s a little bit at a time. 🙂

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  2. Sorry for the frustration and pain. In my family experience lately, it has become more and more obvious that only people who want help can be helped. You wanted to change, to grow, to be better – so you did. They haven’t seen, in the same way that you do, the importance of changing.

    Called my family yesterday. Dad was in a mood to put it nicely. Mom was pretending everything was ok. The youngest sister was frustrated as she could be. When I comment on it, they want to know how I think I see these things over Skype, 5000 miles away. I wanted to tell them that it is screaming in their faces, if only they would look up and see it! I had to get off the phone. They were dragging me way to far down.

    It takes some a bit longer than others to see the problems. Maybe they will get there one day. At least you have made great progress. If only we could do for others what they refuse to do for themselves.Family dynamics can be complicated. 🙂 Good luck to you!

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